Swept away in the cemetery: China’s Tomb Sweeping Festival

Have you swept the tombs of your ancestors recently? In Chinese culture, April 4th is the Tomb-Sweeping Festival, or Qingming Festival, meaning Pure and Bright Festival. Tomb-Sweeping Festival is on the 15th day from the Spring Equinox and is one of the official public holidays in China starting in 2008. The festival is a time to remember past ancestors, to reflect on past deeds, and is an example of expression of traditional Chinese values of filial piety. During this period of time, people worship their ancestors through visiting the graves of their ancestors, clearing and sweeping the tombs, offering food, setting fireworks, and burning joss paper. It is also a good time to embrace warm spring weather and enjoy the new greenery.

But some reports during this time are worth noticing since they implicate the original meaning of the tomb sweeping festival—emphasizing close family relation and filial piety. In a report, two sons do not want to take care of their widowed mother, refuse to meet her, and even do not phone the mother for months. The old mother expressed a thought provoking complain about her sons: “They do remember to sweep family tombs during Qingming. But why they could not have been nicer to me?” There are other reports that people compete in how many fireworks set and how much joss paper is burned.

Just like an old saying:” It would be better to consistently support the living than lavishly celebrating the dead.” The essential meaning of filial piety should be taking care of parents when they are living.  A better time to show respect and appreciation for parents would be when they are alive. People who focus on the formality of burning joss paper and setting fireworks in front of the tombs neglect the essential meaning of the festival. Their lavish behavior is selfish in that they only care about their own face, and it is unhealthy for a society in that it espouses waste of social resources.

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